Breastfeeding And IQ,
Intelligence And Brain Development
Modern parents want to do everything they can
to help their children's brain development.
Never before have there been so many products and books sold
that claim to help parents stimulate their baby's brain, assist
in brain development, and give their baby an intelligence "edge".
Recently, a variety of studies have come to light that tout the
benefits of breastfeeding on brain development and intelligence.
How does breastfeeding benefit the brain?
It comes down to a couple of important things, some of which are
tangible and measurable, and some that are not.
The Importance of Fats and Other Essential
Nutrients in Breast milk
Breast milk contains the ideal ratio of fats, amino acids and
other nutrients that the baby needs for brain and nervous system
development. These ingredients provide the ideal basis for the
"hard-wiring" component of a person's intelligence.
For instance, Taurine is an important amino acid found in high
concentrations in mother's milk. (In contrast, it is almost
nonexistent in cow's milk.) Taurine has an important role in the
development of brain tissue, among other things. A baby's body is
unable to form Taurine on its own, so s/he is totally reliant on food to supply it.
Another important ingredient of mom's milk are fats. Breast milk
contains high amounts of important fats, such as DHA and ARA.
These are very important components of brain structures, and
research has shown that breastfed infants have a higher
concentration of these essential fats in their brain and blood
than do formula fed babies.
Some artificial baby milk manufacturers are adding Taurine and DHA
to their formulas, but this does not make these identical to
mother's milk. Researchers have concluded that there is an
important interplay between all of the components of breast milk
that cause this effect, and that this effect can't be duplicated.
Cholesterol is another ingredient found in high concentrations in
breast milk. It is needed to build tissue in the brain and nervous
system. Babies need cholesterol in the first two years of life.
(Incidentally, there is evidence that points to a connection
between cholesterol in breast milk and the ability to handle
dietary cholesterol in adulthood.)
Studies comparing breastfed children and their formula fed peers
in different ages and stages of life show time and again that
breastfed infants do better on various tests of intellectual
ability. Some have shown these differences persisting for many
Even after the differences in socioeconomic status were accounted
for or eliminated in these studies, breastfed children still
clearly come out ahead.
In fact, one study showed that premature infants who were
breastfed had significantly higher IQs than formula fed babies,
and when babies were fed a combination of breast milk and formula,
their cognitive scores were directly related to the amount of
mother's milk they received.
Breastfeeding and Hormones- Both Baby's and Mom's
Mother's milk has a high level of endorphins in the first few days
after birth. This helps the baby ease the transition to life
outside the womb.
When babies are stressed out, their tiny bodies are in "fight or
flight" mode, and essential energy is diverted away from growth
and development, which would have an obvious effect on the brain.
Additionally, a nursing Mom is biologically a different animal
than a non-breastfeeding one.
For instance, when a woman breastfeeds, her body is flooded with
pleasure hormones, one of which is Oxytocin, the so called "love
hormone", that is also present during orgasm. This hormone helps
her to feel relaxed and bonded with her baby. Oxytocin triggers
nurturing activity, which no doubt plays a huge role in baby's
cognitive and emotional development.
Since lactation suppresses the nervous system response to
stressful stimuli, a happy nursing Mommy means a happy baby!
What are some of the intangible benefits that breastfeeding has on
brain development and IQ?
Breastfeeding Promotes Physical Closeness and Emotional Health
In recent years a lot of emphasis has been put on "Emotional
Intelligence". How does breastfeeding assist with helping a child
The closeness of breastfeeding is an important bridge between
a baby's intrauterine life and his new experience of being out in
Studies have shown that babies who receive lots of physical
contact with their primary caregiver, and lots of stimulating eye
contact and "conversation" are getting important brain stimulation
that gadgets and toys cannot produce.
That is not to say that a formula feeding Mother doesn't do this,
but a breastfeeding baby can't help but have lots of skin to skin
contact and interaction with his mother!
Breastfeeding also gives Mom a chance to reconnect with her busy
crawling baby or walking toddler, who seems to spend all his time
running from Mom. Having several quiet moments during the day to
kiss those dimpled hands, sniff that sweet smelling head, and
tickle those fat feet (that will be bigger than your own soon
enough) is an important way for Mom and Baby to achieve that
The late Dr. Lee Salk, pediatric psychologist, said that "The baby
whose cries are answered now will later be the child confident
enough to show his independence and curiosity. But the baby left
to cry may develop a sense of isolation and distrust, and may turn
inward...later in life, this child may continue to cope with
stress by trying to shut out reality."
The closeness of breastfeeding makes for a happier baby, one who
is settled inside and who trusts that another human will be there
to meet his needs, instead of an outside gadget. Don't we want our
children learning this important lesson from infancy?
Of course, breastfeeding does not automatically ensure that a
child will be smart, but it can be a way to virtually guarantee
that a child lives up to their full genetic potential for
emotional intelligence, smarts and IQ!
About the Author: Carrie Lauth
More breastfeeding help and a free newsletter for Moms who do
things the natural way at http://www.natural-moms.com.